Tidewater Traveler - April 2007

Soarin'

by

George Sellers

   The tangy fragrance of citrus assaults my nostrils while a stiff, head-on breeze musses my hair. My grip tightens on the bar as the treetops seem to be getting dangerously close. I can now see oranges hanging on the branches. The glider seems to be losing altitude; I lift my feet to avoid brushing against the leaves. I see carts, ladders, crates and dozens of pickers hastening to collect the ripe fruit in its prime. And then, just before impact an updraft propels me away from the orchard, and over a barren plain.
    The terrain becomes rocky and in the distance is a canyon. Time seems inconsequential as the edge of the canyon races toward me. My feet dangle inches above the ground; and then in a blink the ground is a thousand feet below with the canyon rim behind me.
    I am sure my heart is racing and my breathing unsteady, but the scene before me is one of incredible majesty – awesome! Drifting, banking, spiraling, I work my way lower and presently the fresh scent of a conifer forest is wafting up to meet me. California Redwoods, tall and stately, point skyward to welcome me.
    Whew!
    For about three decades now Disney Imagineers have very successfully convinced my brain that I am seeing, hearing, smelling or doing things that are not actually happening. I suppose this is one of the reasons I enjoy repeat visits to Walt Disney World; I like being transported to other times and other places in history - and into the future. For example, when audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln pushes himself to a standing position, adjusts his jacket, looks around the auditorium and begins to discuss the birth of our nation, I find it easy to believe that the year is 1861 and I am seated in a grassy town square listening to the great statesman in the flesh. Or, I drift along through the winding canals of “It’s a Small World,” humming and singing, and for a few minutes imagine that the world is a place of peace and harmony where members of all nations join hands in mutual respect. But the boat ride ends. And Abe’s circuitry shuts down to recycle for the next audience.
    One of the more recent innovations in the kingdom of make-believe, the most recent assault on my senses, is an attraction called Soarin’® located in The Land Pavilion in Future World at EPCOT. Soarin’® is a motion-simulation journey that generates the thrill of hang gliding.
    Motion-simulation is a very apropos description for this ride. The participants are not thrown about like on a roller coaster; instead each rider is suspended in a mesh chair-seat with a non-functional wing above. The chair is raised, along with others in the audience, to a position in front of a gigantic, curved, bowl-shaped screen. The projection of incredible IMAX imagery does the rest.
    To sustain the impression of motion and reality, an artificial wind blows and location-appropriate scents are pumped into the air. Those who are weak of stomach, have fear of heights, or are susceptible to motion distress (even though there is no motion) might want to approach this ride with caution. The ride is accessible to anyone with a vertical stature greater than forty inches, and it is also accessible to wheelchair guests as long as they can transfer from the wheelchair to the ride seat where they will be strapped in.
    Soarin’® offers more than thrills. It tenders multiple vistas depicting many of California’s rich natural and man-made wonders through a variety of seasons. The hang glider takes its passengers to Yosemite National Park to see remarkable waterfalls and mile-high, sheer rock walls.
    It soars over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, through the San Diego harbor, and across the deck of a massive aircraft carrier. It glides among colorful hot-air balloons; riders are stirred by the passing of a formation of fighter jets, and then it visits the Anza Borrego State Park.
    Guests raise their feet again as the wing dips near the white caps of ocean waves off Point Lobos. The magical journey concludes by soaring down Main Street USA and up to the spires of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, where fireworks light the sky; the wing descends to earth and the riders return to reality.
    If a visit to Orlando’s Walt Disney World is in your imagination, plan to spend at least a full day at EPCOT. And, if you want to go Soarin’® make your way very early in the day to The Land Pavilion. If the wait-line is too long for you, get a Fast Pass to return at an appointed time and bypass the long queue. But even if you have to wait in line, I assure you Soarin’® will be worth the wait.
    I do not like promotional teasers, like the ones some of our regional TV stations employ throughout the day by giving tidbits of a news story, or by posing a question – a story that will be told, a question that will be answered with ‘film at eleven.’ I rarely make it to eleven.
    I mention my disdain for teasers, to perhaps soften my own use of one now. During a recent trip to Walt Disney World with the family, I had an emotional experience that I must share in writing – possibly in the next issue. The experience had nothing to do with my family; it had nothing to do with any of the hundreds of attractions at Disney World. I met Christopher – and I must tell you about him!
    May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel Web site www.sellerstravel.com